Parental leave: how it works and why it’s so important

It wasn’t that long ago that partners weren’t allowed in the delivery room for the birth of their child, let alone take parental leave. The attitude of many organisations around Australia was that if you didn’t give birth to the baby, then there wasn’t much point in you being around.

Thankfully today, attitudes have changed and all employees are eligible for unpaid parental leave if they have completed 12 months or more of continuous service. Many organisations also offer paid parental leave for fathers and partners, while others may be eligible for the federal government’s Dad and Partner Pay.

Unfortunately, not every family has the luxury to claim parental leave - you may not meet the eligibility requirements, or just can’t afford to take the time off. But experts stress that if you can take the time, you definitely should. Your presence in those first few weeks can have a big impact on your baby’s health, and foster the relationship you have together as they grow.

Positive effects of parental leave

The sooner you start getting involved in the care of your bub, the deeper your connection will become. The first few weeks aren’t just important to establish your bond with one another, there are many other amazing benefits:

  • Good for mums: After the birth your partner is likely to be physically exhausted and will need help around the house so she has time to rest and recover (especially if she’s had a c-section). A recent study found that when partners take parental leave, mums are healthier and less likely to get postnatal depression.

  • Good for baby: Evidence suggests that the involvement of a father or partner early in childhood is important for emotional, cognitive and social wellbeing. For example, one study found children are more likely to experience developmental problems if their father left all home-based care to their spouses, took no paternity leave around childbirth and did not utilise flexible working options.

  • Good for you: According to Kids Matter, an Australian Government and beyondblue funded initiative to improve children’s mental health, parents who are actively involved in their baby’s day-to-day care are more satisfied with their lives, experience less psychological distress, and have greater general wellbeing as well as relationship stability. It’s no wonder a bit of hands-on time with your new mini-me is good for you!

READ MORE: The early days: adjusting to parenthood

Why aren’t more people taking leave?

With all of these amazing benefits, you’d be crazy not to take the time off to bond with bub if you can. So why are some partners choosing not to take the leave options available to them? A US study found that work plays an important role, especially pressures at work, such as deadlines and current projects. If you’re feeling the strain, try to talk to your employer to find a solution that works for both of you. Maybe you can do some of the work from home, or start slowly by working part time for the first few weeks?

READ MORE: What to expect when you bring home your baby

So you want to take leave, what now?

To make the absolute most of your parental leave, make sure you negotiate your leave to begin the day your baby is born (or when the contractions are less than a minute apart!), rather than the due date. Lots of mums don’t go into labour on their exact due date, and the last thing you both need is to be stressed about whether the baby will arrive on schedule.

Keep in mind, most parents don’t regret missing a bit of work, but they do regret missing out on those precious first few weeks with their newborn. Try to take as much time as you can afford, switch off from work and enjoy the new wonderful addition to your life!